By Ethan Diamandas
Amidst what she described as an “out of body experience,” Jamie Lee Rattray skated to the bench and grabbed her Canadian flag.
The bruising 28-year-old Canadian forward dashed away from her pile-up of teammates, snatched the flag from the bench, and draped it over her back like a cape as she skated circles around the rink in a moment of ecstasy.
Canada’s women’s team had just defeated the United States 3-2 to win the gold medal at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, topping off a flawless tournament and avenging Canada’s silver medal from 2018. For Rattray, it was unquestionably the biggest feat of her hockey career – and she came prepared for the celebration.
Read More: Ottawa at the Olympics Day 16: Rattray has a golden evening
“As a kid, I remember watching TV, especially the 2002 Olympics. I just remember seeing the pictures, too, over the years of the girls with the flag waving around,” Rattray told the Ottawa Sports Pages nearly a month after the win. “And that was kind of something that I always dreamt that I would do one day.”
A then nine-year-old Rattray stared in awe at the 2002 Canadian Olympic women’s team, which, like Rattray’s 2022 gold medal squad, dominated the Games.
So, when Rattray prepped her luggage for Beijing this year, she made sure to “knock on wood” and pack a Canadian flag for a possible gold medal victory. In the end, her dream came true – and she won gold in her very first Olympic appearance.
“Hopefully I can put [the flag] on my wall someday because that’s something that I used as motivation growing up,” Rattray said.
Now the flag returns to Canada along with a shiny new gold medal that Rattray stored in a sock for safe keeping while traveling. She’s taken extra care of the medal since returning to Canada, which seems fitting, since Rattray did everything she could in Beijing to earn the hardware.
Rattray, who is originally from Kanata, went haywire in Beijing, sniffing out the puck and burying goals at the most opportune times. Her five goals in seven games ranked tied for sixth-most in the tournament, and Rattray made a spectacle out of each tally, including the game-winner against the U.S. in the round robin and a jaw-dropping bar-down snipe in a win over Sweden.
Rattray’s electric performance in Beijing made it hard to believe she was passed over when Canada selected its Pyeongchang Olympic team in 2018. That roster snub pushed Rattray to her limits, but she said she’s grateful for it.
“At the time, it felt like the world was ending,” she said. “I think, as an athlete, sometimes you have blinders on and you’re so focused on one thing that you forget what’s going on around you.
“You can learn a lot about yourself through adversity. I think, for me, the way that I handled it was just kind of get back to work, evaluate what I need to work on. … And I’m sure glad that I did, because it ended up being a pretty good ending to these last four years.”
Since she’s come back from the Beijing Games, Rattray and Team Canada have been treated like rockstars, with the NHL inviting the entire women’s team to make an appearance before the Heritage Classic outdoor game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres.
“To me, it was actually one of the coolest moments since the Olympics that I’ve had,” said Rattray, who climbed up on stage and sung the national anthem with her teammates before puck drop.
Now the challenge shifts to harnessing that feeling of accomplishment and success brought on by winning a gold medal and pushing it forward. Rattray said she’ll be making her homecoming return to Kanata in a few days, but first there was business to attend to this past weekend.
Canada ran it back with the Americans Saturday, picking up a smooth 4-3 overtime victory in an exhibition match at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh. Rattray said team chemistry was just as high as it was during the Olympics, as if the squad “never left and never had any time off.”
All the time around her teammates reminded Rattray of why she was inspired to battle so hard in the sport of hockey, and how important it’ll be to inspire another generation of young female players.
“It’s more important now than ever to keep pushing it forward and trying to get a league here, so that those girls have something to look forward to when they do start to grow up,” she said.
As it stands, the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) – of which Rattray is a member – doesn’t compete in a fully-funded professional league, opting for a series of exhibition games across Canada and the U.S.
The Premier Hockey Federation – formerly the National Women’s Hockey League – offers a six-team women’s league and recently upped its teams’ salary caps. The PHF and the PWHPA, however, have butted heads in the past over league leadership and financial issues. Currently, the PWHPA does not allow its players to play in the PHF.
Some structure may be coming soon, though, according to Sportsnet hockey insider Jeff Marek, who reported Saturday that a fully funded, sponsored PWHPA league is on the horizon.
“I think it’s just really exciting to know that we are close,” Rattray said in response to a question about the PWHPA league reports. “I hope it does [happen]. I think, as a player, that’s all you want. You just want to push the sport forward, and you want to leave it better than when you found it.”
PWHPA Dream Gap Tour stops in Ottawa
The Canada vs USA contest differed from the PWHPA’s regular format for this season. Featuring teams of players based in Toronto (Team Sonnet), Montreal (Team Harvey’s), Calgary (Team Scotiabank), Boston (Team Bauer) and Minnesota (Team Adidas), the PWHPA’s “Dream Gap Tour” has made weekend stops in various North American cities, including Ottawa.
And it was a hometown star playing the hero’s role when the PWHPA stopped in at the Nepean Sportsplex for the Sonnet Showcase on Feb. 26-27. Rebecca Leslie was the first star in both of her team’s games – she scored a goal and two assists in Montreal’s 7-2 semi-final win over Boston, and then got the game-winner in a 2-1 victory over Toronto in the final.
“It was really fun to be back here in Ottawa – I haven’t played here since high school – and to have family and friends in the stands,” Leslie highlighted in a post-game video media availability.
The 25-year-old played junior hockey with the Ottawa Lady Senators prior to her NCAA career with Boston University. She trained with the women’s national team in Calgary before the Olympic team roster was narrowed down, and has since been travelling from Ottawa once or twice a week to practice with Montreal-based PWHPA players.
A couple of other local products made their mark during the Ottawa weekend. Nepean Wildcats PWHL alum and Wisconsin NCAA champion Sam Cogan was third star in Boston’s opener. And Rattray’s old pal Erica Howe – who she first met in the janitor’s closet when they were the lone females on boys’ youth hockey teams, and wound up together winning championships with the Lady Sens, Clarkson University and Team Canada – helped Toronto to 4-3 semi-final win and made the highlight reel in the Toronto nets.
“We train so much with the team in practice, so it’s just fun to be able to play games like this,” Leslie underlined. “This is why we do it.”
The capital did have a top-level women’s hockey team once upon a time, but the Canadian Women’s Hockey League team gave Ottawa the boot in 2010 following back-to-back seasons where the Senators finished in last place. Leslie remembers the first time she really caught a live glimpse of elite women’s hockey was when Ottawa hosted the World Championships in 2013.
“It’s really cool to be able to come back here and have those role models for those younger girls,” she added.
— with files from Dan Plouffe
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